Word of the Week (107): TWITTEN (probability 20050), by David Sutton

A TWITTEN is a narrow lane between two walls or hedges. It is one of the many pleasant regional words that take us back to a time before motorways when most travel was on foot and there were a good deal more byways than highways, some no wider than was needed to take a couple of pedestrians. So, in this vein, we also have WYND, a Scots word for a narrow alley in a lane or town; Scots also gives us VENNEL, a lane, from French venelle which goes back to Latin vena, a vein, and LOAN or LOANING, referring particularly to an open space left for passage between fields of corn.

In the north of England a narrow alley or path between high walls is called a GINNEL or GENNEL; this is a variant of the word KENNEL in the sense of a street gutter, ultimately from Latin canalis, canal, and etymologically unrelated to KENNEL in the sense of a housing for a dog, which ultimately goes back to Latin canis, dog.

A SLYPE is another word for a passage between walls, used especially of a covered passage from a cloister between a transept and a chapterhouse. With a similar ecclesiastical flavour we have LICHWAY, a path by which the dead are carried to burial, a pause being traditionally made at the roofed gateway to the churchyard known as a LICHGATE or LYCHGATE.

A short narrow lane or grass-covered track, especially if private, is a LOKE, from Old French loca, an enclosed place.

Finally in Ireland we have BOREEN, a lane, from Irish boithrin, well known to lovers of that jaunty yet wistful song, 'Star of the County Down':

'Near Banbridge Town, in the County Down
One morning in July,
Down a boreen green came a sweet colleen,
And she smiled as she passed me by'.


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